Drum circles, a tribal offshoot of music therapy that gained traction in the early 1970s, helped usher in a movement known today as sound healing. No longer limited to drums, “sound bathing” to the timbre of gongs and cymbals, bowls, and various musical instruments has become the go-to for an increasing number of people as a way to heal, restore, and relax.
Far from new or new age, the modality has ancient roots. Research points to old temples dedicated to harnessing sound and magnetic vibrations where people went to recalibrate mind, body, and spirit.
Fast-forward several millennia and sound healing commands a significant footprint in the alternative medicine market.
To distill sound healing to its essence, and to peel back the layer of skepticism associated with trendy and often unregulated alternative movements, we reached out to local medical doctors, regional medical centers, and naturopaths. All declined to comment, citing insufficient knowledge.
However, Dr. Danielle Mellace, an internist who specializes in obesity medicine and integrative medicine at Kaiser Permanente near Petaluma, had this to say: “I have not replaced traditional Western medicine as of yet with sound healing. But I like to incorporate this modality of healing with the long-term goal of possibly weaning [patients] safely off as many pharmaceutical drugs as possible due to their possible short- and long-term side effects.” She says CDs of sound or music always play in her office as a way to help tap into the conversation.
Mellace’s approach may well be the wave of the present and the future, according to Joshua Leeds, a sound researcher and author of The Power of Sound. He believes sound healing “is where yoga was 15 years ago.”
We consulted local experts for further insight into sound healing’s emergence. Here’s how they describe the experience and the benefits.
“Sound healing is the use of frequencies of sound that are meant to heal the physical and energetic fields of the human body.”
— Dr. Danielle Mellace
Palm Springs sound bath facilitator Scott Meredith, who has practiced for more than 20 years, alludes to the ancient in his description of sound healing’s power. “The tonal vibrations permeate into the infinite center of the soul.”
Sound bather Ronda MacNeil echoed the sentiment. “Sound baths create great depth by reconnecting the soul to the ancient wisdom brought forth by the music of the flutes, drums, chimes, gongs, and crystal bowls.”
Meredith says the result is a “transcendent release of tension and anxiety.”
Through that release, he explains, deep healing can occur. “Dealing with a chronic or catastrophic disease is stressful. Sound healing can dispel that stress to facilitate healing.”
To address a specific area in the body under siege, Meredith places metal Tibetan bowls on the body “so the vibration goes directly into that area. That creates a frequency [that] opens up the energy center there and can facilitate healing.” The process is described as feeding “nutrients of sound” directly into organs or muscle groups.
The practice aligns with San Francisco’s Sound Healing Research Foundation , whose researchers suggest each body part “hums” at its own natural frequency when healthy. Through its GeneOM project, the foundation hopes to discover the natural health frequency of every single part of the body to then restore a healthy state of consistent vibration.
There’s a reason many have come to believe sound is a viable tool to restore health. The body’s composition is approximately 70 percent water. Proponents of sound healing claim that because sound travels four times faster through water than air, sound thus becomes the first choice in natural healing. Arguments for and against that hypothesis continue. What is more concrete, say experts and doctors, is sound’s effect on the mind and brain.
Leeds points to specific rhythms and tempos that help with Parkinson’s patients, noting that prescribed tempos help to modulate walking cadence.
Mellace points to other mind and brain issues that also benefit from sound. “The most common medical indications that sound healing may be beneficial include anxiety, depression, chronic pain, PTSD, insomnia, and some neurological conditions,” she says. “Those can all lead to obesity and chronic diseases.”
Overall brain function can also improve through sound healing. “The Tomatis Method,” Leeds says, referring to the practice named for Alfred Tomatis (1920–2001), “is a leading example of specific therapeutically based sound frequencies for improving brain function and addressing neurodevelopment challenges.” Those challenges include autism, dyslexia, ADD, and other psychological conditions. “This is done, in part, by retraining with sound middle ear functionality.” For more information, visit tomatis.com.
Like many alternative therapies, be prepared to pay out of pocket for group and individual sessions. As Leeds affirms, “The FDA, AMA, and insurance companies haven’t found a way to monetize it, so it’s been limited in insurance-based medical settings.”
Where to Bathe in Sound
The popular store in downtown Palm Springs hosts sound baths on the third Saturday of each month at 7 p.m. 760-322-7799, crystalfantasy.com
The cupola structure in Landers, near Joshua Tree, offers public sound baths by reservation. 760-364-3126, integratron.com/sound-bath
Bliss Chakra Spa
The Palm Desert venue provides public sound bath experiences. blisschakraspa.com